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DESTRUCTIVE ADVERTISEMENTS: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN

ADVERTISEMENTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT


Giselle Touzard
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Advertising, originally intended to be a source of information for people regarding availability
of products, has developed into an industry that shapes peoples identity. The influence of
advertising penetrates peoples consciousness at a very young age turning them into consumers,
shaping their roles in society, and their perceptions of self in relation to others. Increasingly, the
self is constructed through products and services advertised in different media. Advertisements
convey the symbolic meaning that particular objects are intended to have in our society,
informing the public of roles, forms of interaction, lifestyles, and value to be assigned to
material objects. In Gender Advertisements, Erving Goffman explained that the problem with
advertisements is that the ways in which males and females are depicted in commercial ads are
not questioned, but accepted as a representation of reality.
Following Goffmans argument, displays of nature in commercial advertisements might
inform of the relationship between humans and their environment. People do not question or
contest the use of animals in ads, or think about the unnecessary use of plants, fruits, vegetables,
flowers, and others that seem to complement photos depicted in advertisements. We hardly ever
think about the destination of such products after the photo session has occurred or the
secondary role that humans play when photographed next to products advertised. We see
portrayals of landscapes and do not make inquiries regarding the condition of such places after
a photo session or commercial production.
LITERATURE REVIEW
In Western societies the capitalist mode of production, that assumes economic growth without
considering that natural resources are limited, produces particular socially constructed cultural
themes. People want to achieve economic success and pursue material goods (Murphy
1994:31) and these wants and needs are all part of the lifestyle that people in Western societies

understand as their freedom of choice, freedom to succeed, and the material representations of
equal rights.
At the cultural level, industrialization has shaped society into a market place, no longer a
place where people talk about their traditions, and what is good or bad, important or essential. It
is a world where the stories of advertisingdominate the spaces that mediate this function
(Jhally:4). The consumerist culture is spreading worldwide. The idea of success and happiness
associated with consumption is appealing. All over the world, people watch American TV
shows, read American magazines, and are exposed to American advertising (Taylor and Tilford
2000:469). The idea of growth by consuming more products and services is in part associated to
the American lifestyle, which is symbolic of socioeconomic prosperity, and what some newly
industrialized nations aspire, but the ecosystem would not be able to support such practices.
According to Taylor and Tilford (2000), If China alone succeeds in becoming an Americanclass consumer nation, the environmental effects will be beyond reckoning. Though it is
hypocritical to deny to others the luxuries (and basic necessities) we take for granted, the current
ecological crisis will worsen dramatically as the more is better definition of the American
Dream spreads throughout the globe (p.469).
Social ecology perspectives detail some problems of capitalism and the dominance of
corporations. Capitalism is an economic system that seeks growth above all, alienated from what
is best for people; it is not social it is purely economic. The main principle for capitalism is
growth. According to Bookchin (1993) The direction it follows depends not upon ethical factors
but rather on the mind less laws of supply and demand, grow or die, eat or be eaten. Maxims
like business is business explicitly tell us that ethical, religious, psychological, and emotional
factors have absolutely no place in the impersonal world of production, profit, and growth (p.
9).

Ideologies reveal and conceal information. When examining capitalism as an ideology,


we might say that free-market economies propose equal rights and individual freedom to
participate, but conceals that power is in the hands of a few (Leiss 1972:168-169). Science and
technology are ideologies establishing a way of seeing the world, claiming validity over
arguments. Ideologies, technology, scientific advancement are all part of a cultural package that
we inherit from our predecessors. Along with ideas and objects, we inherit the overt and
concealed information behind ideologies. With human technology and scientific advancement,
we inherited the distorted view of our own activities (Leiss 1972:178) and the dominion of
nature. Leiss (1972) proposes a reinterpretation of the task of mastering nature, that he says,
Ought to be understood as a matter of bringing under control the irrational and destructive
aspects of human desires (p.193). In relation to the effects on nature, consumption as practiced
in Western societies is an irrational process that generates unlimited desires.
Quoting from Marxs Grundrisse, Leiss (1972) asserts that, Nature becomespurely an
object for men, something merely useful, and is no longer recognized as a power working for
itself. The theoretical cognition of its autonomous laws appears only as the cunning by which
men subject nature to the requirements of their needs, either as an item of consumption or as a
means of production (p. 73). Capitalist expansion did not consider that by destroying nature, we
are destroying humanity. Murphy (1994) says, humans do not need to protect nature. Rather
they need to protect themselves, other living species, and their habitats from the ecologically
irrational effects of human rationalization (p.41) The signs of the consequences of human
actions are experienced worldwide, in increasing ice melting, increase in the sea levels that
threaten people (and others species) living in the coast, increase in the carbon monoxide levels in
the ocean and on the air that affect the ozone layer. No other society has depleted and affected

the environment more than this great civilization; and, we do not know how to repair the
damage or replace the existing materials that we are consuming in such accelerated manner.
All these human-created problems are examples of the plastic rationale of human
projects. It is also an example of formal rationality, a term that Weber introduced to explain
human actions based on efficiency. Formal (instrumental) rationality is goal-oriented, directing
actions towards specific ends, while the alternative substantive rationality would involve a more
meaningful relationship with nature. It is not only that human actions have been shaped by this
rationale, but our ideas and power systems (e.g. economic, political, religious) support and
motivate humans to follow this logic.
METHODS
Following Goffmans (1979) lead, the intent in this research project is to bring forth two
methodological steps: the discovery and presentation of commercial ads. The generalizations
found in this project reveal assumptions seen as a continuation of Goffmans (1979) work. In
Gender Advertisements, he collected pictorial examples un-randomly (p.25) to confirm his
initial observations in three matters: the gender behavioral styles found in actual life, the ways
in which advertisements might present a slanted view thereof, and the scene-production rules
specific to the photographic frame (p.25).
Similarly, I selected nineteen magazines from a public library to observe their content
and draw some categories in relation to environmental concerns. My purpose in this project was
to develop a framework that might be confirmed with a random sample if this project leads to a
study of the relationship between advertisement and environmental concerns creating categories
to address the most frequent issues raised by environmental scholars. I selected one issue per
magazine from the latest available issuefrom July to December 2005. The magazines I
observed were: AARP (September/October 2005) ; Acoustic Guitar (October 2005); Alaska

(September 2005); All You (July 2005); American Artist (September 2005); American Scientist
(September/October 2005); American Spectator (September 2005); Aquarium Fish Magazine
(October 2005); Architectural Record (October 2005); Architectural Review (September 2005);
Arizona Highways (August 2005); Art and Antiques (October 2005); Art Calendar (September
2005); Art in America (October 2005); Brides (November/December 2005); Girls Life
(October/November 2005); Nintendo Power (October 2005); Teen People (October 2005); and
Transworld Skateboarding (October 2005).
FINDINGS
I found the following categories in my initial observations of selected advertisements in
magazines:
(1) Exploitation: Exploitation of animal for commercial purposes. Depictions of animals in cages
seen as natural. Animal abuse, the most evident in the use of fish.
(2) Anthropocentric view: Supremacy of people over nature, e.g. hunting, fishing, etc.
(3) Product Disposal: Use of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and plants for commercial purposes, e.g.
as ingredients or for decorative purposes. My concern here is that we do not know what
happens to the product after the ad.
(4) Commodification of nature (as defined by Georg Simmel): A product of nature that becomes
an art piece and takes a value of its own.
(5) Dehumanization: Natural processes such as getting older represented as unnatural, denial of
aging process, surgical procedures to alter body for non-medical reasons. The product
advertised takes over, being more important than the human body. Use of body parts,
mutilation, faceless, headless, person smaller than product, depicted as insecure without the
product advertised. (NOT anthropocentric, here the product becomes more important.)

(6) Virtual reality: Video games promoted to replace face-to-face interactions, or interactions
with animals in natural settingsespecially targeting kids.
(7) Consumerism/Overconsumption: Advice to shop large quantities of products, or form identity
based on satisfaction derived from products.
(8) Environmental Denial: The ad makes claims of being ecologically friendly, or makes an
association with environmental issues, but in reality there is no ecological concern.
Mass Consumption Mentality
People are engaged in consumption patterns that they cannot afford, consuming goods
and services that they dont need, taking a passive role regarding important decision in their lives
to keep up with the spending habits considered as a social norm. In order to keep up with others
in their workplace, as portrayed on television programs, neighbors, and friends, people work
extensive hours have less communication with their families, get in debt, and exhaust themselves
in a meaningless routine. According to Schor (1998), in the 80s and 90s, middle-class Americans
were shopping more than any previous generation, the size of houses had doubled, and people
surrounded themselves with a number of household appliances, furniture, clothing, and other
material goods. Yet, most Americans felt pessimistic, were in debt, felling deprived or stuck,
more concerned with what they could not afford than with what they already had (p.12).
Figure 1 - Skateboards
Transworld Skateboarding
October 2005, vol.23:10, p.210

Figure 1 is an example of an ad that is specifically advocating mass consumption


targeting young audiences. The message in the ad You can never have too many advocates
consuming large quantities of a product making the association between personal satisfaction
with possession of large quantities of toys. Figures 2 and 3 are examples of an advertising
campaign that portrays mass consumption as natural; repetition constructs a mass consuming
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mentality that goes without contesting. In these images, advertisers target young girls selling
them the idea that they must consume large quantities of a product.
People are engaged in a very dangerous circle and do not know how to escape. They
work more to afford all the material goods that are supposed to guarantee their happiness, in
order to do that, they work more to spend more money, while having less time to spend with
family and friends in activities that would be more meaningful for them. The social pressures to
consume are generalized. Peoplekids especiallydo not know how to live outside of these
practices.
Figure 2 - Sweaters
Girls Life
October/November 2005 p. 71

Figure 3 Sweaters
Girls Life
October/November 2005 p.72

The lack of meaning in their lives is compensated with more spendingand this is how
the circle closes leaving the individual inside not knowing how to regain the time they lost away
from his or her significant others, and not knowing how to respond to the pressures of a
consumerist society. Peoples only resource is to compensate by acquiring more. The sequence
of events starts with a social actbeing exposed to consumer goods. It proceeds through the
mental stages of fantasizing, wishing, and rationalizing. Borrowing may be the next step before
the process culminates with a purchase: See, want, borrow, buy. (Schor 1998:68).
Consumption becomes problematic when people cannot think of alternatives to make
themselves happy. According to Princen (2002), psychologically, humans misconsume when,
for example, they fall into the advertisers trap of perpetual dissatisfaction. (p.33). This is

Figure 4 - Socialite
Teen People
October 2005, p. 116

exactly what advertisers know and exploit. Aggressive advertising campaigns turn people into
consumers debilitating a persons character, making them believe that the connection with
happiness is achieved through a product that they must have, that the ideal of success is just a
step away encapsulated in a brand or name. Figure 4 presents the idea that advertisers attempt to
shape a persons character by introducing an association with the product. The ad plays with the
fantasy of becoming a princess and playing the role of a socialite (which has become a
common theme highlighted in mass media with the cult of celebrities, e.g. Paris Hilton.)
Similarly, figure 5 offers a particular meaning to self expression tied to consumer choices
by creating an analogy between leadership and individuality with the purchase of the brand Lisa
Frank. The advertisings message is misleading and contradictory in itself, since having initiative
and individuality would involve that people are capable of making their own decisions when
purchasing products resisting manipulation from advertisers.

Figure 5 - Individuality
Girls Life
October/November 2005, p. 21

Advertisers invest time understanding the human spirit to shape it into a consumer
mentality. The advertising industry has a primary function to recruit the best creative talent of
the society and to create a culture in which desire and identity would be fused with commodities
to make the dead world of things come alive with human and social possibilities (Jhally
YEAR?:2).
Anthropocentric Vs. Product-Centered Views
In response to ecological concerns regarding the exhaustion of natural resources, people have
taken an anthropocentric view, trusting that through the use of technology they can solve any
problems that may arise (Murphy 1994). The quest for dominating the environment has a
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twofold: first, people can mold the environment in a rationalized and intellectualized manner;
second, in doing so, they can ultimately dominate other people. Quoting Horkheimer and
Adorno, Murphy (1994) asserts that, What men want to learn from Nature is how to use it in
order to wholly dominate it and other men (p.4).
The idea that people had a dominant position as masters of nature, alienated from it,
excluded from the experience did not emerge out of industrialization or the expansion of
capitalism. According to Leiss (1972), In seventeenth-century philosophy the concept of
mastery over nature had achieved its definitive modern form, the one which has remained
authoritative and substantially unaltered down to the present day (p.79). The use of machinery
in the 17th century was symbolic of power and order; the ability to manipulate nature was in
human hands. All technological advancement in transportation, mining, machinery and others
were possible considering the notion that nature is not a living organism; therefore, destruction
of the environment becomes a rational choice (Merchant 1980:227) and serves a socioeconomic
purpose.
Advertisers adopt these ideologies in their campaigns taking an anthropocentric view
toward nature and living organisms. Plants and animals are perceived as products of nature that
could be abused and commercialized as they possess no status in the hierarchical order where
humans have a dominant position. Magazines advertised products and settings using plants and
animals or animal products. People might see the gestalt effect of the photo without questioning
if these plants have been disposed after a photo session, or if the animals were mistreated or
abandoned in shelters after their participation. Figure 6 is an example that combines animal
products, e.g. a fur, with plants within the picture that are portrayed as part of ambiance
decoration. Figure 7 shows a cat in a box advertising an art gallery. The real intention behind the
ad is unclear. The cat might be an additional element that brings up the colors on the wall, may

be setting the mood of the photo, or may have some unknown value for the advertiser that we do
not know. In this type of advertising, we might see the animal as a decorative element without
thinking about its destination after or while the photo session took place.

Figure 6 fur decoration


Art & Antiques
October 2005, vol. 28:10, p. 99

Figure 7 cat
Art in America
October 2005, p. 27

Once order and living standards are set it is difficult to go back and contest the system as
a whole. We inherit forms of living, we are socialized into lifestyles that are difficult to question.
Identifying the sources of power behind these lifestyles is difficult, since patterns of conduct are
widespread and accepted worldwide. Edmund Husserls philosophy aimed at understanding the
social function of science (Leiss 1972:126). Husserl asserted the need to investigate whether
science that we inherit and practicehas anything to say about the conditions under which the
relationships of men to each other and to their natural environment (Leiss 1972:128). Husserls
life-world is a human creation, knowledge and science are human creations. There is a dialectical
relationship between peoples construction of reality and the cultural reality that we inherit. But
Husserl explains that the relation between scientific creations and the practical objects that we
create, although related, are two distinct and dichotomous worlds. For Husserl, the
abstractness[of] scientific understanding of nature and the scientific methodology does not
explain human behavior (Leiss 1972:132). In other words, scientific advancement runs alienated
from human experience and behavior of everyday life.
Following Nietzsches argument, Horkheimer argues that the domination of nature as a
rational choice has been characteristic throughout history, and is not a distinctive of modern

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times (Leiss 1972:148). The nature of reason across civilizations was born from mans urge to
dominate nature (Leiss 1972:148) in doing so, humans ended up dominating themselves.
According to Leiss (1972) technology and science, come to dominate human existence, men
become servants of the very instruments fashioned for their own mastery over nature, for the
tempo of technological innovation can no longer be controlled even by the most advanced
societies, but rather responds to the shifting interplay of worldwide forces (p. 158).
Advertisements dehumanize people making them elements at the service of commercial
purposes, parallel to the anthropocentric view of nature, where the environment is used, abused
and dominated, people become the object of the ad, and the product advertised their master. The
anthropocentric view of nature sees that humans are at the center assumed to have superpowers,
capable of manipulating, domesticating, remolding, reconstructing, and harvesting nature
(Murphy 1994:5). Advertisements transform this idea to a product-centered view of human
bodies manipulated to serve the purpose of the ad. Figures 8 and 9 present images of human
bodies remodeled or fragmented, reshaped or retouched digitally, and harvested in a complex
system of modeling agencies that look for the best shape and image to fit the demands of
advertisers.
Figure 8 Campari Butterfly
Art In America
October 2005, p. 40

Figure 9 - Labeled Back


All You
July 2005, p. 29

Hierarchical Order in Advertisement Displays: An Application of Goffmans Gender


Advertisements
Displays, as Goffman (1979) explained, is a form of communication where people learn from
each other from subtle and overt characteristics based on appearance and behavior. Displays
provide information about a persons social identity, mood, intent, and expectations (p.1). These
indicators exist in every culture. For Goffman, gender displays become part of a ritual, a
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dialogue giving account of female vs. male roles, hierarchical levels, and forms of inequalities
(Goffman 1979). Gender representations are not innocent, but planned accordingly to the
intentions of the performer. Goffman explains, People, unlike other animals, can be quite
conscious of the displays they employ and are able to perform many of them by design in
contexts of their own choosing (Goffman 1979:3). Moreover, parts of these routines can be
lifted out of its original context, parenthesized, and used in a quotative way, a postural resource
for mimicry, mockery, irony, teasing, and other sportive intents, including, very commonly, the
depiction of make-believe scenes in advertisementsThus, the human use of displays is
complicated by the human capacity for reframing behavior (Goffman 1979:3). In this regard,
advertisements frame stereotypical roles between males and females, fragmented displays of
interactions that represent social reality.
This framework can be extended to analyze the instances where humans are reduced to
mere products in a hierarchical order, where the object for sale becomes more important than the
objectified human being, and where the status of the object for sale takes a prominent position in
comparison to human and/or non-human subjects. These displays are not often contested in our
society because we have become accustomed to living surrounded by material objects that after
extensive commodification have taken an importance of their own. Important as they are, these
take precedence in terms of value. A persons worth becomes subjugated to the value of the
articles he or she consumes and displays. Therefore, an ad that depicts a hierarchical order with
the object taking a more important role than a person who displays it, may be seen as a natural
reproduction of the way we live, and how we assign value to those around us. The way a
photograph or television commercial is choreographed, edited, or digitally composed is a
representation of social reality.

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In Goffmans (1979) analysis males are often portrayed as taller than women. This
relation in size, according to Goffman, correlates with differences in social weight (p.28).
Females are depicted as lower in status, subordinated to males and ritualized as taking
instructions from males (pp. 28-56). Females occupy less space than males, often portrayed
asymmetrically within the frame. The visual effect is that females take a secondary role in
comparison with males. This assumption can be compared to instances where products take more

Figure 10 Earth Clothing


Transworld Skateboarding
October 2005, vol.23:10, p. 9

Figure 11 Guitar Belts


Acoustic Guitar
October 2005, p. 87

space within a frame than humans or animals (see figures 10 and 11). The product takes over the
more important position; the object subordinates the subject.
The hierarchical order in our society and the market economy are the basis of a
competitive society; these are human creations, cultural agreements particular of every society.
Humans, like any other species, have evolved into highly intelligent primatescreat[ing] an
environment that is most suitable for their mode of existence (Bookchin 1993:4). The difference
between humans and other nonhuman beings is that humans are capable of producing cultures
that are rich in knowledge, experience, cooperation, and conceptual intellectuality; however,
they may be sharply divided against themselves at certain points of their development , through
conflicts between groups, classes, nation states, and even city-states (Bookchin 1993:4-5). The
culture that we have produced is one with a hierarchical order based on competition, where
people are stratified and classified according to the material objects they possess. These material
objects can take an importance of their own, overpowering the individual. In figures 12 and 13,
we see products that have achieved an importance of their own.

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Figure 12 - Chair
Art & Antiques
October 2005, vol. 28:10, p. 92

Figure 13 Tables
Art & Antiques
October 2005, vol. 28:10, p. 94

These are valued according to the social status they represent, either for their relation to
the person who created the object, or for the ascribed value they acquire as part of a collection or
store where sold. The commodification of objects is part of the capitalist lifestyle, where people
follow the dictums of large corporations that seductively impose ideologies and behaviors.
Products acquire an importance of their own, becoming symbols of status, and those who want to
be identified with a specific status must first acquire the symbol.

CONCLUSION
The scientific revolution of the 17th century (Leiss 1972:76) gave rise to the idea that science
and technology combined could be used to control society. The Renaissance, Enlightenment, and
the Industrial Revolution are examined as a chain of events geared to understand, reconstruct,
and improve society through the use of scientific and technological methods. The quest for the
mastery of society (Leiss 1972:96) with disregard to its effect on nature creates a debate
regarding humans rationality: Are humans inherently individualistic to pursue their own goals
regardless of the consequences on nature, or are we capable of putting aside our particular goals
to benefit society at large? The answer to this question is key since the domination of nature does
not exclude humans.
Capitalism has dominated the minds of people turning them into consumers. That type of
domination is in progress, and includes a vast majority of people in industrialized and developing

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nations, along with the devastation of nature. In the 1980s, Allan Schnaiberg formulated his
treadmill of production theory to explain the increasing environmental degradation affecting the
U.S. after World War II (Gould, Pellow & Schnaiberg 2004:296). At the core of his examination
is the increase level of production that affects all human relations, human-environment relations,
technological development, career-choices, and most processes and organizations in society.
This increased level of production had one major aim: generate profit. The perception that the
increased level of production would improve the socio-economic conditions coincided with the
establishment of the American lifestyle as a symbol of prosperity. The years after WWII marked
a boom in the economy; U.S. expansion and growth were unparallel. On the surface, the model
for mass production seemed to benefit society as a whole, what people fail to hear was that this
model had a potential environmental impactor numerous ecological degradationswith
irreversible consequences.
With mass production certain groups gained political and economic power; but for the
environment, this meant ecological devastation, pollution, and depletion. According to Gould,
Pellow & Schnaiberg (2004) treadmill theory presented an image of a society running in place
without moving forward. It represented a decrease in the social efficiency of the productive
system (p. 297). To this last assertion, E. O. Wright (2004), finds an even darker view of the
future is the capitalist system prevails, he adds that the metaphor of a treadmill is not sufficient to
explain the devastating effect, moving backwards does not capture the whole impact. E. O.
Wright explains, Capitalism would not be so bad if it was just a treadmill of production rather
than an engine of destruction (p.322).
However, Schnaibergs theory focuses on production because it is in this process where
the first decisions affecting the environment occur (Gould, Pellow & Schnaiberg 2004:300-302).
Consumption is a reflection of the products and services offered to consumers, therefore, the key

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process to address is production. If given a choice, consumerswould prefer to be able to


purchase environmentally responsible products, but this decision is ultimately up to producers
(Gould, Pellow & Schnaiberg 2004:303). Bauman (1992) brings into analysis Offes crisis
theory. According to this theory:
The identity of present-day society is fully negative; one describable in terms of absences, failures,
declines, erosions.Being in crisis means that things that society needs, it does not have; institutions and
processes which served its needs do not work any more or fail to maintain the required level of output. But
being in crisis also means that the needs themselves have remained by and large unchanged. (P.47).

What we need is to refocus our needs, resist the pleasure of spending (Bauman 1992:50),
and challenge the definition and seduction of good life posed by corporations. Schor (1998)
presents an alternative lifestyle that some people have decided to take. She explains that, the
pressures of upscale consumption, and the work schedules that go along with it, created millions
of exhausted, stressed-out people who started wondering if the cycle of work and spend was
really worth it. And some concluded that it wasnt so they started downshifting, reducing their
hours of work and, in the process, earning and spending less money (p.22).
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Princen, Thomas. 2002. Consumption and Its Externalities: Where Economy Meets Ecology.
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Magazines:
-

Acoustic Guitar. October 2005.

All You. July 2005.

American Spectator. September 2005, vol. 38:7.

Art and Antiques. October 2005.

Art in America. October 2005.

Girls Life. October/November 2005.

Teen People. October 2005.

Transworld Skateboarding. October 2005, vol. 23:10.

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